Intervention: Help That Works

By Patrick O’Neil

Do you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol and have tried to help them get sober, but to no avail? You are no doubt feeling helpless or even hopeless. In response you may have gotten angry, pleaded, cajoled, bribed or even thrown up your hands in defeat, because nothing else has seemed to work. 

The addict and alcoholic appear insistent on destroying their lives and forcing you to witness the destruction. Over time it can be really hard to stay empathetic and not give up. You may even have watched TV shows like Intervention or Celebrity Rehab and wished by some miracle that your loved one would get picked to be on the show and somehow miraculously saved. You may even have tried an intervention on your own, but it just turned into a screaming match and now your relationship is worse than ever. 

Addicts and alcoholics are not bad people. They just have a disease that is killing them and can’t stop using or drinking on their own. We love them. But it’s frustrating. So what’s the answer? Maybe stop looking for that BIG miracle solution and work towards getting them the help they need. Here are four of the elements that interventionists use that you too can utilize in order to point your loved one in the right direction.  

Communication: You have already proven to yourself that getting upset or yelling hasn’t worked, in fact it has just made you feel bad and the situation worse. “No one automatically knows how to talk to someone living with an addiction,” writes author and research psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Hartney. “But there are ways of communicating that produce better outcomes than we might expect.” Finding that right time to talk is key for the both you and your loved one. “You want to talk to your loved one when he or she [or they] is sober—or as close to sober as possible,” suggests DualDiagnosis.org. “Talking to a person about addiction when he or she [or they] is high or impaired isn’t a great idea. Drugs reduce a person’s ability to think clearly, react calmly and truly register and remember everything that’s said.” The folks at Hazelden Betty Ford also recommend you not, “worry about saying things perfectly. Expressing your concern for your loved one in a caring and honest way is the most important message you can convey.” 

Support: One of the main points you want to communicate is that you will support the addict and alcoholic if they want help. This help may look very different to them than it does to you. So use your communication skills to say exactly what you mean. Support is not enabling them to use or drink more. Support is taking them to an AA meeting, or connecting them with the intake person at a treatment facility. Also keep in mind that support goes both ways. “This notion that each and every individual must first care for their self is vitally important in learning to cope with the addiction of another person,” writes Dr. Allan Schwartz. “If family and friends make themselves ill over the addiction, it will still not put a stop to its steady progress.” That’s why it is important for you to also find your own support groups, such as Al-Anon, CoDA, and ACA.  

Boundaries:While support is important, too much involvement can be unhealthy for the person with the addiction and you,” writes journalist Mara Tyler. “Whether they’re in recovery or still using the addictive substance, it’s critical for you to strike an appropriate balance. If they refuse to seek help or they begin using again, let them know what boundaries you will set on your relationship as long as they continue to use. It’s possible they will need to ‘hit bottom’ before they are willing to change or ask for help.” Tyler’s last sentence may sound harsh and more like “tough love” than caring, but for all concerned making and holding clear and firm boundaries alleviates both parties from guessing what is and what is not acceptable in terms of behavior. Such as you won’t give them money to get high, so they shouldn’t ask. But on the other hand you will drive them to a detox, doctor, or treatment facility. “Making changes in the way that you interact with the addicted person will put an end to enabling,” states Dr. Hartney, “while still showing you care about them.” 

Treatment: The majority of addicts and alcoholics cannot stop using on their own and at the same time studies show they are also fearful and resistant to rehab treatment. Yet according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, “Scientific research since the mid-1970s shows that drug abuse treatment can help many [addicts and alcoholics] change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors towards drug abuse; avoid relapse; and successfully remove themselves from a life of substance abuse.” By using all the communication, support and boundaries that we’ve discussed you should first do the research so that you can then, “Offer [them] information and resources about different programs or treatment centers where they can start their recovery process,” writes Tyler. And, “If they’re willing, take them to a rehabilitation facility.” Like as soon as possible. Don’t wait. Get them to a detox. Contact an outpatient program so they can transition into treatment as soon as they are released from detox. Set everything in motion now, because with the addict and alcoholic by tomorrow they might have changed their mind.  

Interventions do not always look like they do on TV (and sometimes that is a good thing). However they do allow you to be proactive rather than reactive. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “over 90 percent of people get help after an intervention.” Just make sure you “Show you care through your behavior—always act with kindness and compassion,” suggests Dr. Hartney. “This is the elusive secret ingredient to successful interaction with a person who has an addiction. Addiction is so stigmatized in our society, that people who have addictions expect others to criticize, insult, and belittle them, and for friends and family to reject them. By accepting the person with an addiction, even if you don’t accept their behavior, you can start to build bridges to forgiveness and recovery.

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